CHARLESTON, WV (WCHS/WVAH) — For the past several months, Eyewitness News has been taking a look at spending by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
We have uncovered expenditures like a $32,000 couch, a $7,500 piece of custom floor artwork, an $8,000 chair, and many other questionable purchases bought with your tax dollars.
In addition to renovation projects and the purchase of furniture and office extras, Eyewitness News has been looking into many different aspects of the state Supreme Court's operations.
One area is a policy allowing former justices the opportunity to buy their office furniture as they leave office. On occasion, current justices are afforded the chance to purchase items that are headed to surplus.
That is what happened in 2010 with a grandfather clock being moved out of the court's main conference room, which caught the eye of Justice Menis Ketchum.
It is a Howard Miller floor clock, model number 610-995. It was purchased with taxpayer dollars in the 1990s by former Supreme Court justice Larry Starcher for about $2,500.
In 2010, it was being moved out of the court's conference room as that area was being remodeled.
“The clock was moved into the hallway. And we were having a meeting between the justices and the court administrator and he said, 'Should we discard this clock?' And everybody said yeah, to discard the clock. And he said, 'Well, does anybody want to buy it?' And I said, 'Yeah, I'll buy it.' And it was fine with the other justices, and I purchased it,” Ketchum said.
Ketchum said then-court administrator Steve Canterbury quoted a price of $750. The justice agreed, and the clock was delivered to Ketchum's Huntington home.
That was all that was said about the timepiece for nearly a decade, until Monday, when it came up during a meeting of the justices.
“We were having a court conference among the justices Monday. And somebody, one of the justices brought up as an aside, whatever happened to the hall clock? And Justice Davis said, 'Starcher bought it and don't you have it, Menis, you got it?' I said 'Yeah, I purchased the clock, you all approved it.' With the state of things now, I went downstairs to the CPA's office and had them check if there was a check sent to the treasurer. And they said back when those checks were written there was a check for that amount to the treasurer by somebody in the Supreme Court for that amount. But they couldn't verify it. Who it was from or what it was,” Ketchum said.
Ketchum said a search through his personal financial records did not locate any documents supporting his 2010 purchase of the clock. He said he obviously forgot to pay for it.
“I found my check stubs. The banks don't send you canceled checks anymore. And there wasn't a check stub where I'd bought it,” Ketchum said. “I didn't (pay for it). It's not on my check stubs.”
Ketchum and his wife researched how much the clock, which is no longer being produced, is worth. He came up with $1,100 to $1,200, prompting him to write a check for $2,000 to pay for it.
“I thought I was doing a good thing then rather it, you know my wife always wanted a grandfather clock and rather than it just lay over in a warehouse and rot, but I messed up because I thought I paid for it. And my checks don't match the check in the auditor's office,” Ketchum said.
Ketchum said the practice of former justices buying pieces of their office furniture as they leave office is a good one, as long as they pay fair market value for the merchandise.
“When things go into surplus in the warehouse, they sit there and rot. And it's like, Justice Benjamin left and he purchased his furniture. He paid fair market value. The judges prior to Justice Benjamin did. And if they pay fair market value I think it's better than sticking it in a warehouse,” Ketchum said.
Ketchum said he regrets his mistake of not paying for the clock when it was delivered to his home in 2010. He said he has done his best, however, to rectify the situation.
“It's my responsibility, it's on me. But when my mind was jogged, I went and checked and checked values and paid more than the value. I just, I thought I'd paid for it and I hadn't. I mean, I could lie, there's a check over there for $750, but it ain't mine,” Ketchum said.
Ketchum said he settled on paying $2,000 for the clock because of the prices he found on several websites plus the cost of shipping if he had ordered a timepiece and had it shipped to his home.
We will continue to look at Supreme Court spending to let you know how your tax dollars are being handled. Those stories will be airing in the coming weeks right here.